The immigration bill puts thousands of children’s well-being at stake
Today the immigration bill enters the report stage in the House of Lords. This bill has wide-ranging implications for children’s welfare affecting not only children whose families are caught in the immigration system, but also many British families who will need to prove their status to access services like housing and health.
A good example of the families who will be most directly affected by this bill is one like Claire’s* who we supported through our destitution project. Following the death of her father, she was sent here from Jamaica on a visa when she was 12 to stay with her older sister.
However their relationship broke down and Claire became homeless at age 14. She began having sex with men for money in order to survive and although she was abused by older men she stayed with them because she had nowhere else to go. She then became pregnant with twins.
When she came to our services at age 19 she didn’t know that there was anything wrong with her immigration status, and had been undocumented for a number of years as a child and during adulthood. Eventually, the Home Office recognised that she and her two children had a valid right to be here and granted them leave to remain.
Claire’s case highlights the often complex immigration histories of undocumented children and families, and the lack of control they have over why they end up in this situation in the UK.
120,000 undocumented children in the UK, and the risks they face
Children whose immigration status is uncertain will be particularly affected by the new immigration bill. There are an estimated 120,000 undocumented children currently living in the UK.
The majority of these children were born here to parents without an immigration status and many will consider the UK their home. Others may have come here alone without their families fleeing war, abuse and violence, or because they have been trafficked into the UK for exploitation.
As our research shows, these children are already at risk of destitution, exploitation and social exclusion, and this bill is likely to exacerbate problems.
Access to vital services like health and housing
The bill aims to make it more difficult for those without a legal status to access public services, in order to persuade them to leave the UK. However, for many families like Claire’s, this will be impossible. The bill, if passed in its current form, is likely to lead to more children and families being left homeless, without financial support, or access to healthcare and private rented accommodation.
For example, the government intends to make undocumented children and families already in the UK, regardless of their means or vulnerability, pay for services provided by the NHS.
This includes services like antenatal care, immunisations and emergency services. However, many children and families will be unable or too afraid to access vital services, leading to serious consequences for their health and well-being as well as public health risks to other children around them. This has been demonstrated by recent examples such as measles outbreaks in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
It is difficult to see how these measures are consistent with the UK’s international and domestic commitments to promote children’s rights and welfare.
The report stage and beyond
The report stage will also cover issues relevant to children, such as family separation, child detention, access to employment for asylum-seeking families, equal support for migrant care leavers, and guardianship for trafficking victims.
We will continue to work closely with government and parliamentarians to mitigate the negative consequences on children and families, and to ensure that all children’s welfare is protected, no matter who their parents are or what their status is.
*Claire is a false name used to protect the real person’s identity.